KOLKATA: Panic struck residents of central Kolkata’s Bowbazar area late on Wednesday when cracks reappeared in some old residential buildings located above an underground tunnel of the upcoming section of the East-West Metro railway project. Many residents said they felt tremors.
Police evacuated at least five buildings at the affected Durga Pituri Lane till Thursday morning. Local people said cracks were seen in 10 houses, some of them more than a century old.
Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (KMRCL) general manager (civil) Naresh Karmali said none of the buildings suffered any severe damage.
“We have shifted 87 residents to various hotels as a precautionary measure,” Karmali said.
He said the incident happened when a concrete structure was being built to join the ends of two tunnels dug from opposite ends by two tunnel boring machines (TBMs). The structure is being built at the spot from where one of the TMBs was lifted to the surface through a shaft.
Wednesday’s incident brought back memories of August 2019 when several houses developed cracks after the TBM used in Bowbazar accidentally hit an undetected aquifer beneath Durga Pituri Lane. On September 3 that year, three buildings that were vacated eventually collapsed.
The buildings were damaged because water and sludge from the aquifer started gushing into the metro tunnel and gaps developed in the layer of soil above it.
The problem the engineers encountered on Wednesday was of a different nature. Out of the 38 metre long concrete structure that is being built to join the two tunnels, work on 29 metre is complete. “Groundwater gushed in through some points when the remaining nine metre was being built. We have poured concrete to seal these points,” Karmali said on Thursday afternoon.
The houses at Durga Pituri lane either stand dangerously close to each other or share common outer walls. Although nobody was injured in 2019, KMRCL operations at the spot were stopped under orders from the Calcutta high court. The work resumed this year.
A K Nandy, general manager (administration), KMRCL, said the authorities got information about fresh cracks in the buildings around 10.30 pm on Wednesday and engineers were sent to inspect.
Set up more than 200 years ago, Bowbazar is the gold and jewellery hub of Kolkata.
The East-West Metro network will connect Howrah district to Salt Lake township on the eastern outskirts of Kolkata. The tracks will pass through the Bengal capital where the nation’s first underground metro was built. A part of the new East-West Metro tunnel runs under the Hooghly river, a first of its kind project in the country.
Sabyasachi Chakraborty, an affected resident, said, “I have not left my home yet. I am waiting for Metro engineers to evaluate the damage.”
Kolkata mayor and cabinet minister Firhad Hakim visited the area.
“Many of the old houses were declared unsafe by the government after the 2019 incident. These have to be eventually pulled down and rebuilt,” Hakim said.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vice-president Dilip Ghosh blamed the Trinamool Congress-controlled Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC).
“The metro authorities were forced by KMC to change the route of the tunnel. Bowbazar was not part of the original plan,” Ghosh said.
TMC Rajya Sabha member Santanu Sen trashed Ghosh’s claim. “It is a ridiculous allegation. Is he suggesting that the TMC is so powerful that it controls central government organisations?”
In 2019, KMRCL had to keep more than 300 families at various hotels for three months. The authorities repaired the old buildings and also gave compensation of ₹5 lakh each to owners of the houses that suffered significant damage. The amount was proposed by chief minister Mamata Banerjee during a meeting with KMRCL officials.
A division bench of the then chief justice T B N Radhakrishnan and Arijit Banerjee directed KMRCL to stop the work after residents petitioned the Calcutta high court in September 2019. .
The project was targeted to have been completed in 2021 but it was delayed because of the mishap and the Covid-19 pandemic.